When the Shanghai Dragons took down the Vancouver Titans in the Stage 3 Semifinals, it felt like a changing of the guard. With 2-2-2 role lock on the horizon for Stage 4, Shanghai’s coronation after taking down the league’s juggernauts seemed to signal the end of an era in Overwatch. Questions lingered around the Titans’ ability to adapt to the new meta, and to be clear, they were justified.
Even the most ardent Titans supporters expected Vancouver to take a step back upon leaving a meta they had thrived in for a full year. Yes, they had the experience and flexibility to adapt and even excel in any meta, but it was unclear if they would instantly be the world-beaters they had been during the 3-3 meta. Coming into their rematch with the Shanghai Dragons on Thursday night, those questions were front and center as they looked to redeem themselves after an early exit from the Stage 3 Playoffs. The answer was one basically no one could have predicted, the triumphant return of Dong-eun “Hooreg” Lee.
After just 16 minutes of play time on the entire season, Hooreg played all four maps against Shanghai and put on a clinic. His Widowmaker was superb the entire night and insanely clutch to boot. He earned Player of the Match honors and led the Titans to one of their most impressive wins of the season.
The Memefication of a Star
At the end of 2017, Hooreg was among the most feared DPS players in Overwatch. Fresh off their APEX Season 4 victory over Runaway, his team, GC Busan, was widely considered the best in the world. He and Junyoung “Profit” Park were potentially the strongest DPS duo playing the game. The team was picked up by the London Spitfire, and they seemed destined to be a superteam in the OWL’s inaugural season.
At times, the Spitfire lived up to that hype. Certainly, they did when they won the first OWL Championship over the Philadelphia Fusion. Hooreg, however, was left behind. His playtime dwindled as the team settled on Ji Hyeok “BIRDRING” Kim as the DPS partner for Profit, and after Stage 3, the team removed Hooreg from its active roster.
He eventually found his way to Runaway, the same team he had bested back in APEX. Even back in Korea, Hooreg never found a place with the team, at least on stage. He continued to ride the bench as Runaway hit its stride and finally broke through to win a major title in Contenders Season 2 last year. When the team was picked up by the Vancouver Titans coming into 2019, Hooreg came along for the ride, a good luck charm for Runaway’s first major tournament title.
from meme to dream, it's the #FORCEOFHOOREG
— Ben Trautman (@CaptainPlanetOW) July 26, 2019
In their transition to the OWL, the Titans dominated immediately, rattling off 19 straight wins to start the season. Hooreg was a good soldier through all of it, cheering on the team while his presence on the bench was made into a meme. #ForceofHooreg was a tongue-in-cheek play on the Titans’ hashtag that poked fun at the player who barely saw the stage for the best team in the league. Even in the midst of the joke, there was always an element of seriousness. Fans who had seen Hooreg at his peak knew what kind of player he could be.
The Moment of Truth
During his time out of the spotlight, Hooreg turned into a mythical figure, remembered for his pop-off potential but seemingly removed from those glory days. On Thursday, he reminded the Overwatch world of his capabilities. His inclusion in the lineup was perhaps the biggest difference for the Titans as they turned the tables on the Dragons. After a season of being memed to death, he came out with one of the best individual performances of the entire season. He didn’t miss a beat on Widowmaker, matching and even exceeding Min Sung “diem” Bae on his signature hero.
He was clutch in the most important moments and carried fights almost singlehandedly at times. Titans head coach Ji-sub “paJion” Hwang even called him the best DPS player in the league at the moment. Whether that holds true remains to be seen, but it’s hard to argue any player had a better opening to Stage 4 than Hooreg.
For the Titans, Hooreg’s emergence as a potential DPS star puts to rest a lot of the questions they were facing. Paired alongside Hyojong “Haksal” Kim – who had a vintage performance of his own against the Dragons – Hooreg gives Vancouver an elite DPS duo that can carry them through any growing pains during the transition to 2-2-2. Vancouver’s performance Thursday wasn’t flawless by any means – the jury is still out on their Genji-heavy take on the meta. They may never reach the same heights they hit during 3-3, but the Titans proved they can remain among the league’s elite in any meta.
For Hooreg, this is hopefully a moment of catharsis, a chance to prove he has the chops to be a useful player, even if he’s not the elite player he once was. Whenever he started hitting shots on Thursday, Twitch chat and Twitter would immediately explode with calls of #ForceofHooreg. The meme is here to stay, but now it can be more. It can be a celebration, a recognition that a player is never really done. The myth can become reality.
Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
You can also follow Bradley @shyguyow.